Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk follows the tale of the young Ayesha Alturgle, a girl whose sister mysteriously disappeared in some nearby ruins some three years ago. One day, a ghostly version of her sis appears to her, surrounded by glowing flowers - and if she ever hopes to see her again, she'll need to solve the mystery of the blooms and master the ancient art of alchemy along the way. Essentially a role-playing game with a focus on making new items through alchemy, players spend their time exploring the surrounding ruins, forests and deserts, battling monsters and collecting ingredients to fuel their alchemical creations.
Most of your time in the game will be split between two rather different sections: battling, and creating new things with alchemy. As a key part of the game, Alchemy itself involves picking and choosing the correct ingredients to make an object from a recipe, before leaving it to brew. While you have recipes to follow, many offer you a choice of constituent parts, each bringing a different property to the table, so mixing and matching these to make the best items possible is key. Along with having to make certain items for quests (and having to gather the resources to do so), you can also craft bombs, poisons and other such items to chuck into battle and help turn the tide - as well as whipping up all manner of medicines, baguettes and other stuff to help cure your team's ills.
On the other side of the coin, the battles themselves are pretty straightforward, with your team taking it in turns with the enemy to attack, requiring very little in the way of fast reactions and giving you plenty of time to figure out the best strategies. During scuffles, each hit you manage to land adds a chunk to the 'Support Meter', which can then be used either offensively, having everyone team up and attack the same enemy one after the other with increasing strength, or defensively, giving you the option to have one of your team-mates leap in and take a hit for you, drastically decreasing the damage you take.
As a role playing game, though, this is a game that's probably best suited for older children, requiring a pretty solid reading ability (as not all of it is voiced). Much of the more complex alchemy also requires a fair bit of trial and error, as certain quests and objectives require you to make objects with specific properties, and it's not always clear quite how you get them, so there's a lot of guess work involved.
One thing that may worry some players is Atelier's constantly ticking down time limit - everything from alchemy to exploring to gathering consumes days, with a limit of three years in which to rescue Ayesha's sister. By and large you'll have oceans of time to complete the main missions and most of the extra side ones, but some younger players may not appreciate the potential pressure.
Generally speaking, Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk is a pretty safe game for kids - there's no bad language, guts or gore to mention, and when enemies are defeated in the game's turn-based battles, they simply flash and disappear. There's the occasional reference to alcohol and being drunk, as well as two female characters accidentally groping each other in a darkened cave, along with the traditional Japanese role-playing game bath scene, but it's all presented in a fairly innocent, funny way.
Format Reviewed: PS Vita